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Surf City USA: 13 must-dos for families

Surf City USA: 13 must-dos for families

Ever since Jan and Dean dubbed it “Surf City USA,” Huntington Beach has lived up to the name. With 10 miles of sandy beaches (there are five to choose from) and “endless summer” temperatures consistently in the 70s, it’s a classic Californian surf town perfect for catching a wave.

It’s also a fab one-stop destination for families wanting a base to explore Southern California. Newport is next door. Disneyland is just a half hour away and Venice Beach is 40 minutes. You can reach Universal Studios and San Diego in a day trip.

In addition to surfing, there’s shopping, spas and miles of beach boardwalk to cycle. Pre-teens will love the latest craze – waving to the Hollister web cam that broadcasts the beach in its shops worldwide.

We recently spent time there via Visit Huntington Beach and discovered quite a few activities families will enjoy. Follow the guide and you’ll soon be dropping in lingo like “aloha”, “dude”  and “squarepants spongekook”.

1. Stay at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, Huntington Beach

Just steps from the beach, the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa is the perfect place for families to base themselves and enjoy all Surf City USA has to offer. This is a proper resort – with your choice of swimming pools, restaurants (don’t miss Watertable, their signature eating establishment), spa, shops and surf lessons.

Just want to lounge on the beach? Your resort fee includes beach chairs, towels and umbrellas, so you can sit in the cool Pacific Ocean breeze and breathe in the surf scene. On your way back to the hotel, grab a glass of their complimentary cucumber or citrus water at reception, a perfect thirst quencher for a tough day at the beach!

Kids will especially love Slyders Water Playground, with water slides, wading pools, cabana rentals, and daily activities like hula hoop contests, limbo dancing and fish feeding. At night, grab a s’more kit from the Surf City Grocery Store and join the nightly bonfires.

pool at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach California
Just steps from the beach, the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa is a perfect place for families to base themselves and explore Southern California. The hotel is the only one in Surf City that is connected to the beach though a unique walkway over Pacific Coast Highway.

2. Learn to surf in Surf City USA!

Every preteen has surfing on their bucket list and with 100 years of surfing history, Surf City USA is the perfect place to start. Home to the Vans US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach has the most consistent waves due to its position in relation to Catalina Island to the west and Long Beach to the north, with water often in the 60s and as warm as a tepid shower. There’s a plethora of young surfer dude instructors too that can teach children as young as 6 how to catch a wave. Baywatch here we come!

3. Try stand up paddle boarding

If surfing seems like a pipe dream, try Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP), a fast-growing sport that originated in Hawaii by photographers wanting to get better pics of surfers. It’s a combination of surfing and kayaking – you stand up on a specially made over-sized surf board and paddle to propel yourself. It’s an overall body workout that specifically works core muscles. It’s easy to learn and quickly enjoy. Once you get the technique down, you’re a pro! Try starting on McKinnon boards (locally made) that are oversized and perfect for beginners.

stand up paddle boarding at Huntington Beach, California aka Surf City USA
We tried Stand Up Paddle Boarding while in Surf City USA. A combination of surfing and kayaking, it’s a great overall workout and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

4. Cruise the Strand on a bicycle

The Huntington Beach Ocean Strand is 10 miles of paved boardwalk that runs the length of the city along the beach. Rent a classic beach cruiser and race the seagulls. There are lots concession stands along the way to explore. You’ll feel like a local with this unique beachfront perspective. If you don’t want to cycle, try a motor-propelled Segway! Both are fun ways to take in the sites and feel part of the surf culture.

Surf Cirt USA - cycling on the strand
The Huntington Beach Ocean Strand stretches for 10 miles of paved boardwalk, which makes cycling a breeze. You can cycle for miles, either south all the way to Newport Beach or north to Bolsa Chica.

5. Hangout at the beach

Sometimes you just want to relax and soak in the sun and atmosphere, and Huntington Beach is the perfect place. There are five beaches to choose from: Bolsa Chica, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach, Sunset Beach and Dog Beach – each with their own personality. Huntington City Beach is best for families because of the relatively calm waters and lifeguards (there’s up close views of the Pier too). Bring a bucket, spade, body board and sun cream for full enjoyment. Pick up a casual game of volleyball … you might see a professional too!

girl on the beach at Huntington Beach, California aka Surf City USA pulling a body board out toward the waves
Sometimes you just want to hangout at the beach in the cool breeze and breathe in the culture!

6. Learn the lingo!

Surfers have their own language that is constantly changing. Get some “air” as you “carve” the face of a wave. But don’t “drop in”  – a cardinal sin when a surfer cuts in and catches waves when they don’t have the right of way. Often done by a “kook” (an uncool and dangerous person in the “lineup” that doesn’t know surfing etiquette!).

7. Check out the Huntington Beach Pier and wave at the Hollister web cams!

Built in 1906, the Huntington Beach Pier is an iconic image on the Surf City horizon. Walk to the very end of the pier and have a date shake at Ruby’s diner. Pre teens will want to find the Hollister web cam, which broadcasts Surf City USA to its clothing stores across the globe. Though the web cams aren’t always live, you can live in hope of being recorded on their official feed. You can find the web cams on the North side of the pier, under the last tower (see pic).

Hollister web cam at Surf City USA
Pre teens love to wave to the Hollister web cam, which broadcasts Surf City USA to its clothing shops across the globe.


8. Roast s’mores over a fire pit on the beach

There’s something special about warming yourself around an open fire at sunset while the cool air settles in from the ocean. Huntington Beach is one of the few places you can still build a bonfire, and boasts more than 500 fire rings. At night the beach will light up with holiday-makers roasting hot dogs and s’mores (graham crackers, roasted marshmallows and chocolate). Fire pits are open to all on a first-come, first-served basis, but there are several butler services available to stoke the coals for you.

9. Eat the breakfast of surfers at the Sugar Shack

Since 1967, the Sugar Shack has fed locals the best California-style breakfast around. This hole-in-the-wall is a Huntington Beach institution. Make sure you try Keplers (scrambled eggs on an english muffin topped w/ sliced avocado, tomato, bacon & hollandaise sauce) or opt for a breakfast burrito (eggs, cheese, sausage and salsa wrapped in a tortilla). There’s a queue from opening till it closes after lunch, and you can often see surfers arrive in wet suits, order, then quickly change in the back while their food cooks.

Surf City USA - Breakfast at the Sugar Shack in Huntington Beach, California
The Sugar Shack has been feeding locals and surfers the best breakfast in town since 1967. You will often see surfers arrived  in wet suits, order, then quickly change while their food cooks.

10. Wander Main Street and shop for surf wear

Cross the road from the Pier, and you are on Main Street, where you can find all the action. There’s always an exuberant atmosphere, with lots of dining and shopping options. Wannabe surfers will love the numerous opportunities to own authentic surf wear (such as local brands Quicksilver and Roxie) at HSS Huntington Surf and Sport and Jacks.

11. Surfing walk of fame

Don’t miss the Surfing Walk of Fame on Main Street (yes, modelled after Hollywood’s Walk of Fame) where there are often dedications to surf stars as they immortalise their hand and foot prints in cement. There’s a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the godfather of modern surfing, who favoured Huntington Beach’s perfect waves.


12. Have a fish taco at Sandy’s Beach Grill

Fish tacos are a Southern California specialty, originating from Mexico. Grilled fish is wrapped in a warmed corn tortilla and served with crisp sliced cabbage and tangy salsa. Couple this with local artisan beer, and you have a winning combination. Sandy’s Beach Grill overlooks the pier, making it a nice lunch option.

13. Catch a California Sunset and green flash

The green flash is an optical effect that can occur right after sunset, as soon as the sun drops into the horizon. Rumour has it you can view the BEST sunsets from Huntington Pier. And why not make it even better with a Hawaiian Island Iced-Tea and Crab and Macnut wontons from Duke’s, a local favourite that has a commanding view of the Pier.

For more information about Surf City USA

Want to know more? Visit the Huntington Beach Surf City USA official website where you can find all kinds of helpful advice on what to do and where to stay and dine.

Surf City USA Toes on the Nose Surf school
We learned to surf with Toes on the Nose, the Hyatt Regency surf school.

Accommodation and activities were organised and provided by Visit Huntington Beach and their partners. All opinions are my own and my family’s.

About Susanna Scott

Susanna Scott founded the BritMums social network in 2008 after a career in marketing. She wanted to create a space for parent bloggers to network, and share ideas and opportunities. She is often quoted as a pioneer in the UK Mum Blogging space, and has been named a top female entrepreneur. She has been featured in The Times, The FT, The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun, Technorati, She, Primo Baby and Red magazine, amongst others. She speaks frequently about blogging, social networking and the BritMums community at industry events. Her blog A Modern Mother ranks in the UK’s top 10 Family Tarvel Blogs. Follow her on @amodernmother.